Brazilian Intermezzo

Brazil was not originally in our travel plans. But since the Iguazu Falls are at the Argentine-Brazilian border we figured we may as well spend a couple of days in the land of Caipirinha and Samba to get a flavour of it for future trips. Thanks to Cristina and Juan from Sevilla (we met in Patagonia) we had a good idea of what is worthwile to see in the Southern part of Brazil.

After crossing the border into Brazil we took the night bus to Curitiba (capital of Parana state) and from there took another bus and a boat to arrive at Ilha do Mel (Honey Island) late in the morning. As soon as we were on Brazilian soil we naturally tried to spot those famous Brazilian beauties that have been the subjects of many songs, poems, movies, dreams etc. Turns out though we had to be a little more patient and were actually a little shocked to find a significant obesity problem (among men and women). Ilha do Mel though is spectacularly beautiful (to convince yourself have a look at the pictures below or go to http://www.ilhadomel.net/). It is a (mostly) quiet natural paradise where the main draw are the beautiful beaches, the surfing and the tranquility. There are no cars, no cell phone reception and most of the hostels dont have any TVs. The main street is actually a sandy path, roughly 2 meters wide, and the only traffic consists of bycicles and wheelbarrows. After sunset the island remains in the dark and in order to venture out into the “nightlife” we had to use our headlamps!! Ilha do Mel really reminded me of a song called “Sunshine Reggae” where the lyrics go something like “dont worry, dont hurry, take it easy”. And so we did, just taking walks around the island, observing bat-sized butterflies and enjoying the beaches.

Ilha do Mel at Sunset

Ilha do Mel at Midday

After two days in paradise we packed our bags to continue our trip to Rio de Janeiro. The owner of our hostel looked at us in disbelief and could not understand that we would trade paradise for hell. She assured us that she would never go to Rio even if the trip was paid for!! We thought about it for a moment but this was our chance to visit the magical Rio de Janeiro and hence we better not be deterred by gangster stories (there are plenty of them and somehow I also still remembered the movie “City of God”).

Anyway, we arrived in Rio de Janeiro next morning after a freezing night on the bus. And let me tell you, it was not the expected love at first sight. Maybe it was because we arrived by bus through the “backdoor” of the city and seeing some pretty ugly sites early, maybe it was because the skies were still overcast after a night of rain or maybe it was just the sight of all those half dead bodies lying around everywhere when we arrived at our hostel (something we only understood a couple of days later when we were in a similar state).  We stayed at the Rio Hostel in Santa Teresa (www.riohostel.com) which turned out to be a good choice because of its location and nice views of the downtown area (would recommend to book their private rooms though). Santa Teresa is the neighborhood where the rich Cariocas (people of Rio) used to live about 100 years ago but these days it is more or less (unjustifiably) neglected by both locals and tourists because it is considered not safe (there are actually a couple of Favelas close by). Nevertheless, if you look around closely you can still find many traces of a glorious past such as the Bondinho (a cable car connecting Santa Teresa with downtown Rio), well preserved cobblestone streets and some eclectic architecture. Not surprisingly this is now the neighborhood of choice for Rio’s creative. The other advantage of Santa Teresa is its closeness to Lapa, the nightlife district for the Cariocas (Ipanema and Copacabana are more for tourists and the upper class) and the place that can take credit for the renaissance of the Samba music.

And in Lapa it happened on the first night out – I started falling in love with Rio de Janeiro. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere… Restaurants, Cafes, Bars with open doors and windows on every corner and live music (mostly Samba) everywhere. When we were trying to have dinner in a small restaurant with live music at around 10pm, the Brazilians were just about to turn the place into a dance hall. We still managed to get a bite and then went to another bar where they also had live music. And there we found her, the most beautiful Brazilian girl ever, dressed in pink, very bootylicious and shaking it to the never ending Samba rhythms. We must have been sitting there like idiots, mouth wide open, but we just could not take our eyes off her! And guess what we were dreaming about that night… Little did we know that this was only an appetizer. The night after (Friday) we could hear the Samba rhythms already from our hostel, but when we stepped outside the streets of Lapa seemed to be on fire. There was a huge crowd in the street, tons of vendors selling beer and Caipirinhas, food stalls and of course music on every corner. Well, it turned into another late night returning to the hostel at 3.30am. My personal favorite though was Saturday night. Again, we spent it in the Lapa neighborhood and I actually wanted to go to the concert of Jorge Ben, one of the most famous Brazilian musicians. However, I showed up too late and the doors were already closed. Gustavo was already on the way back to the hostel and I was a little pissed at myself for missing the concert. Then however, I stumbled upon a little place called Carioca da Gema where a Samba concert was going on. The place was packed and the music superb. I previously thought of Samba primarily as some carnival noise, but this concert definitely turned me into a Samba fan. Well, I returned to the hostel at 4am and learnt the day after that Carioca da Gema is one of the premier Samba venues in Rio. So, if you are in town, dont miss it!!

You can probably tell that my love for Rio is primarily based on its music scene. However, we also did the more touristy stuff like Corcovado (which has superb views), Copacabana (yes, there are pretty girls on the beach too!), Ipanema and finally went to a soccer game at Maracana stadium where the World Cup final of 2014 will be played. It is fair to say that the setting of Rio de Janeiro amidst the hills and with the beaches is very beautiful. The city is a candidate to host the Olympics in 2016 and Gustavo and I both sincerly hope they will get the games. That would probably cause a certain clean-up and make it shine even more beautifully in the future.

View from Rio Hostel

View from Rio Hostel towards downtown Rio

Bondinho

Bondinho, Rio’s cable car

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach

View from Corcovado

View from Corcovado

High above Rio

High above Rio de Janeiro

Carioca da Gema

Samba concert at Carioca da Gema

Flamenco Fans

Fanatic Flamenco fans at Maracana stadium

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